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Kino Korner May 29, 2003
The Matrix: Retarded
By Mark Ames Browse author Email


The premiere of this record-smashing blockbuster at the American House of Cinema last Friday coincided not only with its US and worldwide release but more importantly with the launch of the latest stomach-twirling local English-language nightlife newspaper, Element (staffed by rogue Lifestyle elements). Flounder and I crashed Element's launch party/premiere with visions of halyava on our greedy minds: tables of free cocktails and the finest snacks that the Radisson Slavyanska would have to offer. For, as Mike Yanagita says in Fargo, "Yah, you know it's a Radisson, so you know it's pretty good, yah."

We got there just as the movie was starting, and were horrified to learn that there were neither free drinks nor free snacks. There was some kind of "Element" cocktail, but you had to pay 100 rubles for it and it looked kind of gross. Matrix: Reloaded

I was unable to fathom the significance of this troubling development in large part because I'd popped four Vicodins just before heading over. I stole them from a friend of mine who had surgery to remove a varicose vein that had wrapped itself like a predatory vine around one of his testicles. His wife blamed the evil vein for squeezing his sperm tube, and hence her inability to get pregnant. The day he woke up from his testicular surgery, raw sack in blood-soaked gauze, his wife called with good news: her tests came in positive! She'd been pregnant for three weeks already! The surgery wasn't needed after all! Yippee!

Yippee for me, that is. My friend didn't like his prescription pain killers, so I took them off his hands for safekeeping.

Now you'd think that a dreamy special-effects-packed Hollywood blockbuster with a budget the size of Moldova's net worth would be exactly the kind of movie you'd want to pop Vicodins to, like baking out on Lumbo Gold and going to a Pink Floyd laser show. Wrong you are.

THE MATRIX: RETARDED is an excruciatingly slow, dumb, boring movie with yawner combat scenes, laughable characters and cheesy computer special effects that draw attention to themselves like some annoyingly over-talented art-rock guitarist wailing out unnecessarily complicated leads to cover up shitty songs.

First, the plot: is the world we're living in the "real" world, or a virtual world controlled by machines in the "real" world? This might be interesting in competent hands. Say, in the hands of Philip K. Dick, who invented the paranoia/virtual-reality genre. Dick has become increasingly popular as a source of Hollywood pillage since his death in 1982, the year that the first film based on one of his novels, Blade Runner, was released. Blade Runner wasn't just done right, it stands as one of the greatest works of modern art.

The second successful attempt to interpret Dick was Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall. Verhoeven took Dick's paranoia-charged plot structure (are the hero's memories real or were they planted into his mind) and turned it into a mega-budget blockbuster packed with signature gross-out special effects. Blade Runner and Total Recall represented two poles of modern fascist aesthetics: Ridley Scott's tragic fascism, and Verhoeven's bloodlust fascism.

The odd thing about all of these mega-budget interpretations of Dick's ideas is that Dick himself was about as lo-fi, anti-fascist a sci-fi writer as there was. Science and futuristic technology were supplanted in Dick's books by low-cost drugs and painfully familiar domestic misery, as well as Dick's grim sense of humor.

Where does the Matrix sequel fit into this? Simple: it's Dick for retards.

I should point out here that I didn't like the first Matrix. I popped it out of my VCR after about 20 minutes. It wasn't even Philip K. Dick for Dummies: it was just "for Dummies" period. Keanu Reeves has only played two good roles in his entire life: the dirthead in River's Edge and the dirthead in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. On the other hand he's played some of the most laughably bad male leads in modern movie history: Dracula, Devil's Advocate, and his infamous appearance in Dangerous Lesions. Reeves is so bad that, if you're in the right mood, he might actually make you laugh, the way Sophia Coppola unintentionally played the greatest female comic role in cinema history in The Godfather III.

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